By Arman Gaico
No other administration has left a fierce anti-drug legacy than former President Rodrigo Duterte’s.
Though his war against drugs drew attention and criticism from the local and international communities, he garnered support from the public as his policy mobilized people, particularly the youth, to refrain from drug use.
Given the resurging drug problem in the country, it is no wonder that Duterte has sought to drum up the administration’s anti-illegal drug campaign.
In a recent Facebook live, independent Senator Alan Peter Cayetano asked the former chief executive (and his running mate in the 2016 elections) to remind the public to continue the campaign against illegal drugs.
In response, Duterte said the police only need to be assured the government has their back when it comes to enforcing the law.
Duterte added the police can only choose between two options: right or wrong.
“If you choose what is wrong, you will be in a dangerous situation. If you choose what is right, all of us will be happy.”
Cayetano, who served as foreign affairs secretary under the Duterte administration, echoed Duterte that the government should be “uncompromising on illegal drugs.”
Early this year, the senator made the same call amid fears several high-ranking police officials in the Philippine National Police have links to drug syndicates.
The senator, a strong supporter of the PNP, also highlighted police officers should be ‘agents of change’ in addressing the perennial drug problem in the country.
He said this even though his home city of Taguig, with his wife Mayor Lani Cayetano at the helm, has not been spared of the rampant spread of drugs under the police.
In December last year, four employees of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency were arrested in a raid at the Taguig City-owned building that housed the PDEA office.
The incident prompted Mayor Cayetano to demand the return of the building to repurpose it for a more worthy public use, and to express the LGU is “dead serious about its fight against illegal drugs and that it demands the same level of commitment from PDEA.”
After this incident, Mayor Cayetano gave a strong marching order to rid the city of illegal substances, which immediately bore fruit as six barangays were declared drug-free in the City of Taguig weeks ago.
Senator Cayetano himself has also continued to express full trust in the capability and service of the PNP, and stated that only those who are found to be narco-generals and involved in the illegal drug trade must be fired and face the music.
Recognizing the intense drug problem in the country, the Cayetanos have implemented an impressive and collaborative anti-drug campaign in their home city that involves local authorities, schools, and households to help the Taguigeños stay away from prohibited drugs.
In October last year, they renewed their commitment to improving the Department of Health Treatment and Rehabilitation Center in Camp Bagong Diwa, the largest drug treatment facility in the country.
In November also of last year, the city government carried out a series of Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral Treatment (SBIRT) seminars to aid drug dependents against the use of illegal substances through voluntary rehabilitation and medication.
Through this seminar, 75 employees and representatives from the City Departments, which include the PNP, Bureau of Fire Protection, Barangay captains, and kagawads, were trained as SBIRT screeners.
In another collaboration before the COVID-19 pandemic, the LGU joined forces as well with schools and parents to conduct information drives in all 34 of the city’s public elementary and high schools to help protect 6,000 youth from being exposed and tempted from using illegal drugs.
These holistic efforts to tackle the drug problem, including the calls of Duterte and Cayetano, should be heeded by the current administration.
While its approach to addressing the drug problem at the grassroots level may be more refined, will it be enough against the Hydra-like illegal drug trade that regrows its heads whenever authorities try to chop them off?
(The author is an anti-crime and anti-drug advocate in Cebu City. During his college days, he joined a non-governmental organization that would help drug dependents and their families.)